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It takes an immense amount of humility to serve.

It takes an immense amount of humility to allow yourself to be served.

In the upper room on the night of His betrayal, an argument broke out among Jesus’ apostles as to which one of them was considered to be the greatest (Luke 22:24).  It was such an unseemly and misguided dispute, especially in light of what was about to transpire in the hours that followed.  While the cacophony of this ego-driven contest of conceit wore on, Jesus quietly arose from his reclined position at the table, took off His outer clothing, wrapped himself with a towel, filled a basin with water, washed the feet of His disciples, and dried their feet with the towel (John 13:1-5).  As if the divine Son of Man had not bowed low enough in emptying Himself to become enveloped in human flesh, he stooped further still to perform the most menial of tasks for a bunch of whining, self-obsessed men who could not be bothered to extend a simple, common courtesy to one another, much less to their Lord and Master.

Images of “the basin and the towel” like the one above tend to evoke a scene that was clean, sterile, and pristine.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Jesus didn’t have the modern convenience and protection of latex gloves or the aid of brushes or pedicure instruments.  He used His bare hands to rub and rinse dirt and packed-on road grime from the calloused, malodorant feet of 12 adult men.  As their feet grew cleaner, the water and the towel grew more dingy and dirty.  This was no mere ritual or superficial ceremony; it was a legitimate and much-needed foot bath.

Jesus powerfully displayed unparalleled humility in this act of selfless service.  But, to be served in this way required of the apostles that they dig deeply into their reservoirs of submissiveness and poverty of spirit, neither of which was their strong suit.  It was purely out of pride that Peter protested, “Lord, you’ll never wash my feet!”  “Dig a little deeper in the well of humility, Peter,” Jesus said.  “If you want to be with Me, you’ve got to let this happen.”

Who among the apostles earned a foot washing that evening?  Who deserved it?  Who could have demanded it of Jesus?  For the apostles’ part, it just took humility, faith, trust, and confidence in Jesus that He knew what He was doing, that this was somehow needful and necessary, despite their inability to fully understand it at the time (John 13:7).

Washing feet is not too much of a cultural necessity for most of us, but allowing people to serve us in other ways can sometimes test the limits of our humility.  People will often ask us during an extended illness or other times of crisis, “What can I do to help you out?  Can I do some laundry for you?  Let me pick up your dirty clothes, take them home, wash and dry them, fold them, and then I’ll bring them back to you.”  In our pride, we balk, and we bar their extension of grace and mercy.  “No! No!  I couldn’t possibly let you do that!”  Why?  Because it’s personal; it’s private; our underwear is in there; our dirty underwear!  So, in our pride, we rob them of a blessing, and we rob ourselves of a blessing.

In unmerited grace and unmitigated mercy, Jesus wants to cleanse us.  He wants to do our spiritual laundry, removing the stains of sin that we are powerless to remove for ourselves.  He wants to wash our robes, making them clean and white through the saving power of His sacrificial blood (Rev. 7:14).  It takes humility to allow Him to do that.

In baptism, we humbly surrender our pride to Jesus’ divine will and submissively accept His promise to wash away our sins (Acts 22:16); not a physical cleansing, but an appeal to God for a clean heart and conscience (I Peter 3:21).  Far from a human work that somehow invalidates salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10), baptism is a humble expression of faith and confidence in the power and working of God to save us (Colossians 2:12).  Baptism is a dramatization, a reenactment, of our faith in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection and a pledge of our trust that God will, through that same resurrection power, quicken us to new spiritual life (Romans 6:1-7).

Baptism is complete surrender.  It is wholly submissive on our part, just as it was for the apostles as they allowed Jesus to wash their feet.   Baptism is a bold proclamation of the depth of our faith in Jesus Christ; enough faith to trust Him; enough faith to obey Him; enough faith to submit to His instruction; enough confidence in Him to simply comply with His request.

My 21-year-old son, Coleman, is developmentally disabled and unable to bathe himself.  He is simply incapable of doing it; it is impossible for him.  Our morning routine each day involves me getting him into the tub, lathering him up, scrubbing him down, shampooing and rinsing his hair, drying him off, drying his hair, shaving him, brushing his teeth, and getting him dressed.  All the power and the “work” that makes his cleansing a reality lie totally outside of himself.  The only thing he contributes to the process is beautiful, humble trust and acceptance.  He just receives the gift and the blessing of grace without pride or protest.

People spend far too much time debating what baptism is for, rather than just accepting where baptism is from.  It is from Jesus.  Just humbly accept it, submissively receive it, and let Jesus do your laundry!

I have a collarbone problem; an asymmetrical irregularity.  I honestly don’t know if it is a congenital condition or the result of a childhood accident or injury that never healed properly.  If symmetrically arranged, my collarbones would more or less mirror each other, roughly pointing to 9:15 if they were hands on the face of clock.  However, my clavicle clock is stuck somewhere between 9:10 and 9:12.  This odd skeletal arrangement results in a left shoulder that appears shorter and higher than my right shoulder, with a similar distortion in the appearance of my trapezoids.  A shirt suffices to disguise this oddity from most people, but I see it in the mirror every single morning when I shave.

My left thumb doesn’t match my right one.  The end of “lefty” got mangled and nearly severed in a nasty car door accident when I was in kindergarten.  My left calf is noticeably smaller than my right one.  It has been that way ever since my junior year in high school when I spent an extended period of time in a leg cast following a football injury.  I have a “missing” knuckle where my ring finger joins my left hand, the result of a fracture while playing flag football in college; the knuckle still exists, but is hidden because of misalignment.

Just call me Nemo!  (For those of you who have never seen Finding Nemo, you really should take in this extremely entertaining and endearing animated film!)

Asymmetry is a tough pill to swallow for recovering perfectionists like me.  I once paused during a sermon several years ago and moved an artificial plant on the podium so that it would precisely mirror the position of the one on the other side of the pulpit.  Once order had been restored to the universe, I was able to proceed with the message.

I’ve come to learn that owning and embracing my physical asymmetry is a part of humbly acknowledging and accepting my humanness and my imperfection.

The same thing goes for my spiritual asymmetry.

I can now comfortably accept that God expects my faithfulness, not my flawlessness.  The latter is simply not within the realm of possibility for me.  I can rest in the confidence that He desires persistence and perseverance in my faith, not perfection.  I no longer have to live with the false guilt that I don’t measure up or unnecessarily inflict spiritual and emotional damage upon myself by trying to project and protect an image that neither I nor anyone else can live up to.

The apostle Paul describes his own spiritual asymmetry as follows:

“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead, I do what I hate…  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway…   Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:15, 19, 24 – NLT).

Like Paul, I wrestle with spiritual incongruencies and inconsistencies.  There are days when most things seem to make reasonable sense, the dots connect, and my language and behavior generally conform to the image of Christ into which I am seeking to be transformed.  There are other days when I question just about everything, things don’t seem to align properly, and I am embarrassed by my spiritual immaturity and pettiness.

And so it will be for the rest of the journey: victories and defeats, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, progress and lost ground.  My sanctification will not be made complete until Jesus returns and I see Him just as He is and am made like Him (I John 3:2).

Until then, I will do my best to walk in the Light so that I may have continual cleansing in His blood.  I will humbly and readily confess my transgressions, trusting in His faithfulness and righteousness to forgive my iniquities.  I will continue to entrust the salvation of my soul to my Advocate and His atoning sacrifice for my sins  (I John 1:7-2:2).

His strength for my weakness.  His righteousness for my sinfulness.  His perfection for my asymmetry.

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